Atoms of a new super-heavy element — the as-yet-unnamed element 117 — have reportedly been created by scientists in Germany, moving it closer to being officially recognized as part of the standard periodic table.
Researchers at the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research, an accelerator laboratory located in Darmstadt, Germany, say they have created and observed several atoms of element 117, which is temporarily named ununseptium.
Element 117 — so-called because it is an atom with 117 protons in its nucleus — was previously one of the missing items on the periodic table of elements. These super-heavy elements, which include all the elements beyond atomic number 104, are not found naturally on Earth, and thus have to be created synthetically within a laboratory. [Elementary, My Dear: 8 Elements You Never Heard Of]
Uranium, which has 92 protons, is the heaviest element commonly found in nature, but scientists can artificially create heavier elements by adding protons into an atomic nucleus through nuclear fusion reactions.
Over the years, researchers have created heavier and heavier elements in hopes of discovering just how large atoms can be, said Christoph Düllmann, a professor at the Institute for Nuclear Chemistry at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. Is there a limit, for instance, to the number of protons that can be packed into an atomic nucleus?
"There are predictions that super-heavy elements should exist which are very long-lived," Düllmann told Live Science. "It is interesting to find out if half-lives become long again for very heavy elements, especially if very neutron-rich species are made."